London Irish ready to welcome Michael D Higgins
WHEN a patient recently awoke after an operation in University College Hospital in London, he was seen by a Dublin-born registrar and two of his consultants were Irish, as were two nurses who helped him.
"When I came to see him in the evening – he asked me had he been kidnapped and transferred to Ireland," laughed Michael Patterson from Belfast, a consultant at the medical institution.
A buzz has been circulating among the large community of Irish medical staff at the hospital – which numbers in the hundreds – in advance of the visit of President Michael D Higgins. The President will be visiting on Wednesday as part of the first official state visit to Britain.
He is expected to meet some 20 Irish members of staff at the NHS hospital when he pays tribute to those who have worked for the health system in the UK.
There are 8,000 people working at University College Hospital in Bloomsbury and it is estimated that as many as one in 10 in the nursing divisions are Irish.
"The concentration of Irish people within this hospital is phenomenal," said Dr Patterson, who has been a consultant for three months.
The visit by the President and his wife Sabina will come on the third day of his trip to the UK, where they will be met by Frederick Curzon, the parliamentary under-secretary for the Department of Health.
Among those he is expected to meet is Helen O'Toole, a nurse educator originally from Connemara, who said that the visit would recognise the importance of Irish people working in England.
"It is a very big thing for the Irish people in the hospital. There is a buzz – we just couldn't believe he is coming here, we are just so privileged," she said.
Paula O'Brien, a matron in surgery, said Irish people were continuing to come in their droves to work there.
Many were now asking whether they could come and meet the president, she said.
"Every ward I have been on in the last few weeks, every Irish person has asked, 'can I be there?'" she said.
Dr Patterson said the excitement showed the appreciation of the staff for the President's visit.
"I think Irish people are very proud of coming from Ireland and then to get a reciprocal recognition from home of what you are doing over here, I think it is quite important," he said.